Guide to iPad and other Tablet Devices : Part 5
Tablet/iPad Cameras, Video and Sound -
Recording and Playing Back
Apple released a good
quality camera and also miniature LED flash on its new
iPhone 4. But its first generation iPad has no camera
at all - a disappointing omission.
It has become almost expected
that any type of portable computing device will include a
camera, and these days it is increasingly expected that the
camera will be capable of video as well as still photography.
Feature inflation/expectation continues, with miniature flashes
and second cameras becoming increasingly de rigeur too.
While the camera
specifications, as narrowly cited in terms of Megapixels, might
imply they are almost as good as regular digital
cameras/camcorders, that is absolutely not the case.
If you feel you may benefit
from an included camera, you need to carefully scrutinize
different devices and their camera/video capabilities.
Camera(s), Audio and Video
Everyone was surprised when
the iPad was announced as not containing any sort of camera.
These days regular cell phones almost always have one camera,
and increasingly they have two, and it seemed amazing that a
device with a lovely large display, better able to display
pictures well, was not equipped with some sort of camera.
It appears this might have
been due to equipment shortages and Apple's desire to get some
type of iPad to market as quickly as possible, and seems close
to 100% certain that the next generation of iPads (expected
perhaps in Q2 of 2011) will have at least one camera in them.
Most other tablet devices
have at least one camera in them.
Note that all these
miniature cameras will never be as good as regular cameras, even
if the number of Megapixels they can capture an image at seem
comparable. They are doomed to mediocrity by having a
miniature lens (although, paradoxically, the smaller the lens,
the less optical distortion that is introduced, which is why/how
'pinhole' cameras work) and a similarly tiny sensor chip.
Most of the camera units in
phones and now in tablets too are fixed focus and fixed focal
length, and while they take pictures vastly better than a few
years ago (if you'd like a laugh, have a look at this page of
pictures I took with a Nokia 3650 in 2003, or these
sample pictures from a Motorola V600 taken in 2004) they are
still visibly inferior to those from regular sub-compact digital
Why two cameras
Typically and historically,
devices would have a camera on the side opposite to the side
with the screen, allowing the screen to be used as a viewfinder.
With the growth of available
bandwidth making video-conferencing practical, even on a small
portable device, we have started to see devices with two
cameras. A moderately good quality one on the back of the
device for regular photo/video use, and a low resolution on on
the front for video conferencing.
Video camera issues
If you have a low quality
camera for video conferencing, you'll probably have to accept
whatever quality it offers.
But the capabilities of the
rear-facing higher quality camera may be of more relevance.
We're far from convinced that a tablet is well suited for taking
video footage, at least until such time as it has image
stabilization and zoom capabilities, but as a way of at least
quickly grabbing very short clips, a tablet - like a cell phone
- should at least have the advantage of being close to
omnipresent and easy to quickly pull out and start filming with.
You need to understand what
resolution the camera will film video in, and how many frames
per second it will film. Ideally it should handle at least
480x640 at 30 frames per second, and any higher resolution than
that becomes successively better, while any slower frame rate
becomes increasingly unacceptable.
Some cameras claim
capabilities more like 320x240 ('QVGA') at 15 frames per second.
This is too small and too slow by today's more demanding
A clever enhancement being
added to some phones are miniature flash units - LEDs rather
than traditional strobe type flashes, which give out a bit of
light that helps to illuminate close-by subjects. They are
useless beyond maybe 10' and of limited use closer than that,
but they are better than nothing, and are a feature to look for
on tablets too. With more room and more battery, it is
reasonable to expect more powerful LED flash capabilities
appearing on tablets.
Although tablets generally
do not have traditional voice/cell phone capabilities (although
with VoIP capabilities in Google Voice and Skype and Wi-Fi
connections, the line between regular cell-phone calling and
VoIP/Wi-Fi calling becomes very blurred), they should be able to
record sound - both to add to video, for video-conferencing, and
as a simple audio recorder.
Ideally there would be a
microphone in each direction for each video recorder function,
and also some type of noise cancelling technology to filter out
background noise, which might require another microphone.
There should also be the
ability to plug a headset into the unit so as to both listen to
sound/music played back and to record sound through an external
Bluetooth capabilities, both
for regular Bluetooth headsets the same as with cell phones, and
for A2DP type communication to audio playback devices, would
also both be very helpful and positive.
If the tablet could record
sound in stereo that would be, well, twice as good as if it can
only record in mono.
The unit should also have
one or two built in speakers to allow for 'emergency' playback
of sound. These built in speakers will probably be very
small, very poor quality, and not capable of playing very
loudly, but they will still be much better than nothing and are
an essential feature to insist on.
The unit should be capable
of playing MP3 type sound recordings, and hopefully also AAC and
WMA encoded sound. AAC and WMA are both better than MP3 (ie
higher audio quality in a lower bit rate/file size), but MP3 is
still the most globally found standard for sound recording.
The unit should be able to
play video back on its built in screen, of course.
These days it seems the
ability to play back high definition 720p video is becoming
expected, but as discussed above, we don't recommend you record
your video in 720p high definition format to start with (we have
been using 576x720 as a compromise for no particular reason on
our iPads), and so don't see this as a necessity, but there's
certainly no harm in the unit having more rather than less
Most tablets also have an
external video feed that could be connected to a larger high
resolution external monitor. Again, the higher the
resolution the better, perhaps, but if you're not recording and
storing video in high definition on your tablet, who really
cares if the connection is capable of transferring over higher
quality video than you have.
Note that high definition
playback requires a HDMI type output plug. Regular video
outputs and S-video and even three component video outputs won't
support the new HD video playback.
of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.
Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the
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30 Sep 2010, last update
26 Jun 2019
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